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Insanity defense - Term Paper Example

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Insanity Defense Introduction The criminal law requires criminal conviction to fully satisfy the presence of both the criminal act ‘actus reus’ and the criminal mind ‘mens rea’, grounded on the belief that the commission of a crime necessitates an evil intent…
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Insanity defense
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Insanity defense

249). This defense has posed an insoluble problem to the criminal justice system – Contrary to the criminal law which seeks to punish the criminal; the insanity defense seeks to excuse the criminal of responsibility (Fersch, 2005). Affirming the crucial importance of criminal intent in defining a crime, this term paper contends that insanity defense is morally justified and necessary because without this justice may be unwittingly denied. Insanity Defenses The recognition and standard of insanity defense vary across states and have changed through the years: From the M’Naghten rule (1841) to the introduction of Diminished Responsibility (1866) and to the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. (Reznek, 1997; Fersch, 2005) These changes did not abolish neither weaken the insanity defense, but instead further rationalized its justness as can be deduced from its five categories. First, the cognitive defense asserts that the offender is not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) because his mental illness prevents him from knowing the wrongfulness of his act. This defense must prove that at the time of the criminal act, the defendant must have been damaged by a mental illness to a point that the defendant did not know what he was doing and that what he was doing was wrong. Second, the volitional defense asserts that the offender is NGRI because his mental illness prevents him from controlling his impulses, causing him to act criminally. This defense though not widely accepted is used in crimes of passion. Third, the causal defense asserts that the offender is NGRI because his mental illness causes him does the criminal act unconsciously. This defense may apply in automatism cases where a person may have purposefully committed a crime in an unconscious state. For example, Simon Fraser in his sleep walking unknowingly battered his son to death while dreaming that he was defending himself against a wild beast. Fourth, the character change defense asserts that the offender is NGRI because his mental illness changes his moral character causing his criminal act. Here, the defendant’s decent character must be proven, showing that his wrongful act is clearly out of his character. And fifth, the diminished capacity defense asserts that the offender is NGRI because his mental illness reduces his culpability for committing the crime. This defense may not necessarily exonerate the defendant from criminal liability but can reduce the quality of the crime and hence the sentence. (Reznek 1997) This defense, Williams (1983) clarifies, is judged based on the morality of the case rather than psychiatric findings that its success relies more on getting the sympathy of jurors (as cited in Reznek, 1997, p. 278). These categories of insanity defense emphasize the incapacitating impact of mental illness on the moral judgment of the defendant causing his criminal act. Since criminal responsibility requires moral culpability and since justice demands the punishment of evil ones, then insanity defense is justified (Reznek, 1997). Therefore, insanity defense is not only an excuse to avoid punishment but is essential to ensure the integrity of the criminal law. To abolish insanity defense may compromise criminal justice. Temporary Insanity The temporary insanity defense is an excuse doctrine that concerns the blameworthiness of the actor. Unlike conventional insanity ... Read More
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